Transit and city planning experts from all over the country are converging on Pittsburgh this week to help the Port Authority of Allegheny County create a plan for the future.
Port Authority spokesman Jim Ritchie said the nine consultants are part of the nonprofit Urban Land Institute and will come up with recommendations about how to improve the county’s transit system.
“They’re going to be looking at a lot of financial information, a lot of service information, a lot of the challenges that Port Authority and its riders have faced over the last several years,” Ritchie said.
Ritchie said in the past, the authority was in cutback mode due to budget shortfalls and legacy budgeting issues. With last year’s passage of Act 89, the state’s comprehensive transportation funding bill, the authority is looking at several years of financial stability.
“That means we can preserve and protect the system we currently have on the street, and (address) some of the issues we see today like overcrowding and on-time performance issues,” Ritchie said.
The ULI will consider the ideas that the authority has for modern transit in Allegheny County, including the expansion of rapid busways and the integration into the light rail system.
“But it also has to do with things like introducing new fare products now that we have a smart card system (and) rider technology improvements so that we can tell you when your bus is arriving and why it might not be arriving if there’s an accident or something in the system,” Ritchie said.
On Tuesday, consultants from ULI will meet with more than 100 people from a wide range of organizations, including chambers of commerce, neighborhood associations, and advocacy groups. Ritchie said that meeting will be key to giving ULI consultants a grasp on the challenges facing the transit system, as well as the improvements the community would like to see in the future. The Port Authority is also offering an online forum to give other community members a chance to weigh in.
On Friday, ULI will host a public meeting to discuss its preliminary recommendations. Ritchie said video of that meeting will be available on the Port Authority website afterwards.
Ritchie said he expects a hard copy of the ULI’s recommendations within a couple months, and that the Port Authority will synthesize those recommendations with the ideas and recommendations from policy makers and other stakeholders around the county.
“With the funding in place, it certainly is the right moment to do this,” Ritchie said. “You don’t want to wait five years or even just a couple years down the road from now to have this conversation.”